Balboni v. LaRocque, — So.2d —-, 2008 WL 4414240 (Fla. 4th DCA Oct 01, 2008

The absence of supporting evidence is a recurring theme when it comes to appellate reversals in probate litigation [click here].  In this case the issue was whether the proponents of a lost will had overcome the presumption that the will was intentionally destroyed.  As I’ve written about before, the law in Florida is that a will that was in the possession of the testator before his death and that cannot be located after his death is presumed to have been destroyed by the testator with the intention of revoking it [click here].

In the linked-to opinion the 4th DCA summarized the evidence past courts have held is sufficient to overcome the presumption that a lost will was intentionally revoked as follows:

Evidence that can serve to rebut the presumption of intentional revocation of a lost will consists of evidence that the will was either accidentally lost or destroyed, or willfully and fraudulently destroyed by an adverse party. Id. In several cases, Florida courts have found the presumption of intentional revocation to be rebutted by a showing of: 1) evidence that a person with an adverse interest, and the opportunity, may have destroyed the will, see In re Estate of Washington, 56 So.2d at 547; Lonergan v. Estate of Budahazi, 669 So.2d 1062 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996); Upson v. Estate of Carville, 369 So.2d 113 (Fla. 1st DCA 1979); 2) evidence that the will was accidentally destroyed, see In re Estate of Carlton, 276 So.2d at 833 (presumption was rebutted where decedent repeatedly spoke of his will and his intention to leave his estate to the petitioner, although the decedent’s safe was found waterlogged and the papers inside turned to “mush”); 3) evidence that the original will had been seen among the decedent’s papers after her death, see Silvers v. Estate of Silvers, 274 So.2d 20 (Fla. 3d DCA 1973); and 4) evidence that the decedent was insane and thus did not have testamentary capacity to effectively revoke the will, see In re Estate of Niernsee, 2 So.2d 737 (Fla.1941).

No Evidence + Speculation & Conjecture = Reversal

The big problem for the lost-will proponents in the linked-to case was that they had all sorts of plausible sounding theories for why the lost will should be admitted to probate . . . but NO EVIDENCE to back them up. Here’s how the 4th DCA explained that not having evidence in support of your arguments can be a problem (yes, even in probate proceedings):

In the instant case, the evidence relied upon-the mirror-image wills of Bill and Charlotte, the decedent’s longstanding testamentary scheme, the discord between the decedent and granddaughter Kim, and the presence of nurses and visitors in the home-is simply not sufficient to overcome the presumption that the decedent intentionally revoked his will at some point in time prior to his death. Since it was undisputed that Charlotte predeceased her husband, the evidence that her will was found is not material. Likewise, evidence of a decedent’s fondness of someone or, in this case, a lack thereof, is not material to the question of revocation. See id. at 43. Further, the fact that people with no interest in the will had the opportunity to accidentally destroy it and “might possibly have done so obviously is no evidence whatever that they did.” Id. We therefore conclude that here, as in Baird, the petitioners have failed to rebut the presumption of revocation with competent substantial evidence and instead have “presented no more than the fabled twins of speculation and conjecture to establish that [the decedent] might not have revoked his will.” Id. at 43-44.